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Theatre for social change - Interview with Daniel Maposa, Director of Savanna Arts Trust
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
March 29, 2011

Read Inside/Out with Daniel Maposa

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Savanna Trust is a non-profit, theatre for development organisation formed in 2006. The Trust achieves it goals through creating and presenting performances that address society's problems and aspirations. The theatre performances by the nature of their design provoke and provide a platform for dialogue to communities and their leadership. In 2008 Savanna won a National Arts and Merits Award.

How did Savanna come to be?
In 2006, at the height of the Zimbabwean crisis, a group of us artists had been saying that arts has a role in society. It is not only for entertainment's sake but all over the world arts and theatre used to play a role in bringing awareness and educating people on various social political and economic issues. So we came together and decided to use our talents to define the role of the arts and we formed Savanna Trust which worked to do all of this in grassroots communities, not the kind of elitist theatre that we witnessed at the time, where there was a lack of access to information and marginalisation.

In what ways do you utilise theatre for development, what sorts of stories are you telling?
We capacitate community theatre groups with skills and a few resources so that they can tell their own stories in their own communities. We also have what we call facilitators or community activators who go into a community and research on topics and together with the community produce a play that deals with the problems and the issues that they would have identified that are important for that particular community. In most cases we don't pre-produce a play for a community but we make sure that the community becomes participants in the creation process of the play. Listen

Are there any issues that are universal to the communities that you've worked in?
Sure. In Zimbabwe political violence is an issue, as is poverty, and gender-based violence. Those are universal issues that we find in communities. What we do first is that the community theatre groups that we would have trained produce plays that engage and stimulate people to discuss and find solutions to their own problems. If they identify an issue and they don't know where to go to get assistance we then refer them to a specialist organisation. For example we refer rape victims to the police and other organisations. We try to make sure that communities mobilise themselves to take actions with little assistance from us. Listen

What communities are you working in?
We are in 67 Provinces: In Mashonaland West we are in Karoi and Hurungwe and Kadoma. In Mashonaland East, Mutoko. In Matebeleland South there is Gwanda. Midlands we are in Lalapanzi, and Manicaland we are in Mutare and here in Harare.

What is the Protest Arts International Festival?
It's a festival that tries to publicise the role that protest arts play in the building of a democratic society. It is held in Harare - last year was the second edition. It has been very successful. We have attendance from around the world. This year it will be held in October. What's important about this festival is that there is a conference that runs concurrent to it. The conference discusses the role of protest and there are performances from all forms of art including music, visual arts, theatre and poetry.

Have you faced any political resistance to your work?
Quite a lot, especially during our formative years. We had artists who were arrested in 2007 & 2008 and some were beaten up. We then devised strategies of going around these problems. That is when we said communities should also be able to produce their own work; they should talk to their own issues, instead of us using a top-down approach. We have had events that were banned but we have always found a way out of this. If communities are doing it, it is difficult to ban because it is a movement from that particular community. Listen

In view of that resistance, how then do you feel about winning a NAMA Award in 2008?
For us it was a milestone. The play ‘Madam Speaker Sir' that we won the award for was highly political. It was also high on artistic creativity. I think it was an award that was saying we have achieved our goals in terms of political messaging and artistic creativity.

What future to you envision for Savanna Trust?
Savanna Trust's future lies in a free democratic Zimbabwe. As long as there is oppression we will be here. We envision a future where we are the leading organisation in terms of theatre for social change in Zimbabwe and the world.

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